Region moves forward on plan to create more jobs

There are now 16,000 workers in San Benito County, 20,000 expected by 2035

Field workers thin the plants in March 2016. File photo by Nick Lovejoy.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what San Benito County leaders heard Tuesday as they adopted an economic development strategy that aims to create more local employment, fill industrial parks, attract new business to the region and train local workers to get well-paid jobs.

“I really do believe that this is just what we need,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said after Economic Development Corporation Project Manager Kristina Chavez Wyatt presented the comprehensive plan. “It brings all the agencies into focus and what we need to do to enhance opportunities within our own county.”

Currently, there are approximately 16,000 workers in the region. According to the plan, that number is expected to top nearly 20,000 by 2035.

“It’s anticipated to grow by 25 percent by 2035,” Chavez Wyatt said. “Our farm employment is 11 percent, which is much higher than the state average of 2 percent.”

According to the plan, major job clusters in the region include agriculture and agriculture services, food processing, distribution, and chemicals.

The influx of new homebuyers from Silicon Valley has grown San Benito County’s median income from $65,000 to $71,000 from 2006 to 2015. Chavez Wyatt said median income is anticipated to rise to $96,000 by 2020.

Median income in the region for a family of four is $81,000, which Chavez Wyatt said is too high for the county to qualify for numerous state and federal programs.

“One of the issues we’re dealing with is we have a living wage of $47,000 here in our county for a family of four,” she said. “This is an issue because our housing prices are inflated by the incomes in Silicon Valley. We have two economies: people that live here and those that work here, but may not be able to afford to live here based on our median wage.”

The plan, which was unanimously adopted by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and supported by the cities of San Juan Bautista and Hollister, laid out eight goals for the next five years.

“First and foremost, we need to act collaboratively,” Chavez Wyatt said. “We need to make the most and leverage all of our resources, our interests and our passions. Between the three local jurisdictions, the cities and the county, and many economic development entities throughout the county, we all need to recognize the important role we all take in our thriving local economy.”

Chavez Wyatt explained the process, which started in the spring, was long overdue and kept local jurisdictions from qualifying for critical federal and state funding that could be used to spur economic development in the region.

“This community hasn’t had a community economic development strategy since 2008,” Chavez Wyatt said. “Therefore, we’ve been ineligible to go to the Economic Development Corporation for funding. What we saw with approval and adoption of the county general plan in 2015, it had an economic development element. The strategy will also fulfill requirements for us to receive grant funding.”

Other goals outlined in the plan, include investing in local business development and attraction, investing in talent development, retention and education, improving business climate and competitiveness, investing in infrastructure maintenance and growth, supporting an entrepreneurial culture, ensuring community safety and health and creating economic resiliency.

“We’d like to communicate that San Benito County is open for business,” Chavez Wyatt said.

For more information go to www.businessinsanbenito.com.  The website also has a list of free and low-cost business resources.

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